Some domestic dogs learn to comprehend human words, although the nature and basis of this learning is unknown. In the studies presented here we investigated whether dogs learn words through an understanding of referential actions by humans rather than simple association. In three studies, each modelled on a study conducted with human infants, we confronted four word-experienced dogs with situations involving no spatial-temporal contiguity between the word and the referent; the only available cues were referential actions displaced in time from exposure to their referents. We found that no dogs were able to reliably link an object with a label based on social-pragmatic cues alone in all the tests. However, one dog did show skills in some tests, possibly indicating an ability to learn based on social-pragmatic cues.